Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona

by Christy Anselmi /
Christy Anselmi's picture
Jul 13, 2023 / 0 comments

This summer, my husband and I undertook a move. A relocation from Massachusetts to Arizona has been undertaken by others, no doubt. We decided to make things a little more interesting than a direct route. We headed north. Our circuitous route is winding us through Newfoundland, Portugal, and North Carolina. When one would think to take the southerly route from the Carolina’s to Arizona in the winter months, we will make Bugs Bunny’s famous right turn at Albuquerque to get to Bozeman, Montana. Then, we’ll drive to Arizona. Our 100 pound Golden Doodle, Kipper, was not consulted in the making of these plans, but we plied him with treats for the first three years of his life to the point he considers us his pack and blindly follows our direction. Our two sons weren’t consulted either. But, given that they abandoned us in their selfish quest to get a college education, we felt at liberty to leave a note on the front door explaining why other people now live in their house.

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona

There are some places in this country I would advise people with sensory issues to avoid. The New York City subway at rush hour, grocery stores in any southerly town the night before a projected snowstorm, and lower Broadway in Nashville anytime, any day. We rolled into Nashville on a Friday afternoon around 3:00pm, and with 30 minutes before we could check into our rental house, we decided to find the happenin' section of Nashville. Broadway seemed to be the place to go, according to my research. 

After a few confusing turns that got us to an area with tire warehouses and urban gas stations, we hung a u-turn and headed toward the other end of Broadway. As our windshield crested a hill at 8th and Broadway, we gasped and realized we had found "happenin'. There were people lined five deep on every inch of the sidewalk—and every single bar, restaurant, brewery, tavern, shop, and probably even the local library had live music playing with huge windows folded open for all to hear. 

We noticed the musicians were even stacked on top of each other, because most venues occupy two or three stories of a building with each floor hosting a different live band. From our car, we tried to make comments to each other over the cacophony about this incredible spectacle, but after so many "Huhs?" and "What did you says?", we gave up and just gawked. The racket was only enhanced by spinning and blinking signs announcing a venue's name and assuring you that your style of Honky Tonk is right this way. Glittery boots, squishing tassels, tall hats, shimmering belt buckles, and plenty of plain clothed revelers crowded every indoor and outdoor space.

Open-air venues line Broadway in Nashville. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona
Open-air venues line Broadway in Nashville

Heading to our rental home, we noted that things really get hopping early in Nashville on Fridays. We were back on lower Broadway on Saturday evening after our son, Jackson, arrived from California to spend the week with us. John was excited to show Jackson Nashville's weekend craziness, so around 5:00pm on Saturday they walked amongst the throngs. Sunday being a day of rest, of course, lower Broadway would be tucked up nursing its hangover...we thought. Nope! 

Sundays, Monday at noon, Tuesdays at 4:00, Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Thursdays at didn't matter! This place doesn’t stop! New York better watch out because Nashville is sneaking up to grab the title of "City That Never Sleeps." It is already one of the leading Bachelorette Party destinations in the country. Calling all the leather chap, steel-toed boot wearing, shirtless dancing cattlemen...these girls have fists full of ones!

Strut your tassel-clad self in here ladies! From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona
Strut your tassel-clad self in here, ladies!

Nashville has several neighborhoods, each with a distinct personality. Music Row is where you go to find your record label offices, radio stations, and recording studios in old converted homes or funky retro buildings. It is a historic district where many of your favorite Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins songs were recorded. 

Dolly: One of a kind and a Nashville fan favorite! From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona
Dolly: One of a kind and a Nashville fan favorite!

The Gulch is where you find your young professional foodie types milling around this reinvented urban district acting as if country music wasn't even a thing around these parts. Germantown (where we stayed) is The Gulch's pleasant, introverted second cousin who gets overlooked at the party but doesn't interpret it as rejection. Germantown goes home to its few neighborhood restaurants, bungalow homes, and local coffee shop and says, "What a nice party that was. Glad to be home." East Nashville lies just across the Cumberland River and claims Nashville's artsy title where you can go to the quirky Tomato Festival every August. Bring the kids to listen to fruit and vegetable themed storytime while you guzzle a Bloody Mary.

Few tourists in Nashville are actually decked out in wrangler fashion. The majority of people cruising lower Broadway are dressed in walking shoes and cotton shirts. Though large in number, strangely, the plain clothed people are the ones that look out of place. The few women we saw donning a tight crop top, with their mid thighs, knees, and upper calves jutting from a frilled short suede skirt with glimmering cowgirl boots, and the men in a western patterned button down tucked into jeans with the pointed tips of tooled leather peeking out at their feet, looked right for the environment. 

A weird thing comes over you when in a boot store in Nashville. You begin to feel the urge to buy one of the hundreds of pairs of sensational leather footwear masterpieces that are the obvious appropriate choice for your night dancing to Honky Tonk. A few times, I had to slap my own face and remind myself that I would NEVER wear those cowgirl boots anywhere else in the world ever in my life, but in Nashville I felt like a caricature without them.

A mere fragment of the available options. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona
A mere fragment of the available options

If lower Broadway is the charismatic party girl of Nashville, The Grand Ole Opry is the jovial old uncle that everyone has to visit for the pinch on the cheek and to chuckle at his silly jokes. In my mind, you can't not visit the uncle. So we did. A show at the Grand Ole Opry does not require or invite skimpy cowgirl frill from attendees. It does require a walker, however, for many performers and attendees. A Grand Ole Opry show is a bit like a variety show with country music wannabees one at a time singing their best three hopeful hits before a legend of the industry shuffles on stage to sing his 1953 smash hit, "Love Under the Cherry Blossoms." It is like if Lawrence Welk and the show Hee Haw had a baby.

Here are some words my mother (who was with us) and I used to describe the show afterwards:

Here are some of the words my sons, Collin and Jackson, used to describe the show afterwards:

If Lawrence Welk and Hee Haw had a baby. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona
If Lawrence Welk and Hee Haw had a baby

But, we all agreed that another place people with sensory issues would not want to go is The Grand Ole Opry Hotel. It really is a sight to behold, but expect a spectacle of people, water fountains, restaurants, and an entire river all inside a labyrinth of multi-level walking paths with alarmingly large leafy plants obscuring any sense of direction. The check-in area of the hotel was a circus of children and really stressed out parents. The 4.1 mile atrium (The Delta) screams to children, "Come here! Check out the koi fish! Splash in my indoor river! Play Hide n' Seek amongst my acres of indoor foliage! By the way, did you see my indoor waterslide park!! Go check it out!!" Any first grade teacher can handle multi sensory stimulation at levels higher than the general public, but even I was close to curling up in a dark corner, rocking back and forth while repeating, "Please just make it stop.”

I did redeem myself in my role as "Family Travel Coordinator" with a live jazz concert at Rudy's Jazz Room at the end of the Thanksgiving week. Rudy's Jazz Room is a room. It can't be called a venue or a club, because that implies an area larger than a two car garage. Rudy's is the kind of place I've come to love for its intimacy and ease. The location is away from the hecticness of the happenin' part of town. We parked on the street 15 steps from the entrance. The hostess checked our name off of a paper copy that had a list of the ticket buyers' names handwritten on a grid template. (No finding that long lost email or downloading an app to get to the tickets!) 

It is dimly lit for ambiance (and possibly because the clean up crew from last night got tired halfway through the shift...Fine by me as long as I can't see it!) It had approximately eight small, round tables and three loveseat sized sofas nestled close together next to a compact bar. The show started at 5pm and ended at 7:30...the same night! But most of all, the band was INCREDIBLE! We saw Nioshi Jackson and his ridiculously talented jazz band. Nioshi played the drums and actually took a background role to his band members. His super-chill, lost in space bassist (Aren't all bassists super-chill and lost in space?!). His “I'll rock your world AFTER the show, sweet thing in the third row" lead guitarist. His thoughtful, smooth, inventive, confident saxophonist. His nimble-fingered, intelligent, but forgettable pianist (Does anyone ever remember the keyboardist's name?). And his super sexy, forgiveablely arrogant and impeccably sophisticated yet casual lead singer. For their masterful playing and unique environment, the night scored points with our youngest attendee of 20 years to the oldest among us at 70+.

Outstanding Nioshi Jackson band! From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona
Outstanding Nioshi Jackson band!

Thanksgiving week hit a culinary high with a Thanksgiving Eve grilled cheese sandwich bake-off contest. The five participants (John, my mom, Collin, Jackson, and me) concealed the recipes and secret ingredients with such care that on the day of the competition there was much slithering past each other with bags of groceries each of which got its own padlock attached before going in the refrigerator. Several of the contestants forgot their lock combinations and had to find alternate ways to break into their plastic grocery bags once assembly began. Some bickering over the rules (Entries must be original or can be taken from the internet?) ate up some valuable time. The trash talk was heavy at times, and contestants were known to steal bits of each other's ingredients, to much consternation. 

At other times, the silence, other than the sizzle of cheese hitting the hot pan, was unbearable. It was hard to tell if brows were glistening from the sweat of anxiety or splattered bacon grease, but suffice it to say, everyone brought their A game. 

Outstanding Nioshi Jackson band! From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona
A rare moment of light-heartedness in an otherwise vicious competition

In the end, Collin pulled off a hard-fought victory, muscling out his brother by one unexpected ingredient or a variation on a mayonnaise-based spread. The most confident among us dropped tail and a traditional recipe entry gave way to an inspired and original creation. Sportsmanship was shown by all, in the end, and a handmade trophy of (ill)repute will be placed in the bedroom of the victor. That is...until next year's bake-off, where it's anyone's game.

A rare moment of light-heartedness in an otherwise vicious competition. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona
The judging begins. The coveted win yet to be revealed

John and I lingered around the eastern part of the country and even diverted further east to Portugal for the first five months of this travel adventure. Now it was time to sail the ship west. With all due respect to central regions of Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and the Texas panhandle, we did not linger in any of these places. Interstate 40 was our home for three days and a decent three star generic brand name hotel off the interstate served our nights. Arkansas passed by in a blur, but interested us for its considerable fall foliage still yet to fully turn and fall. Eastern Oklahoma had vapors of Arkansas's autumnal delights, but gradually gave way to scatterings of trees on low rolling plains then to a startling vacant landscape the closer we got to the Texas border. 

The Texas panhandle looks tragically like the surface of the moon minus the visual interest of craters, but adding in a lashing wind and shoulder high tumbleweeds flinging themselves at your car. At a rest area exit, Kipper tried to pee. He tried so many angles in an attempt to get out of the wind that was surely going to blow the waste directly back onto his fur, that he just gave up and held it. We dodged incessant tumbleweeds on our way back to the car, which required a two handed pull on the door handle to open it against the wind. The car door slammed shut, nearly severing my foot as I leaped in and commenced trying to shake the dust off my eyeballs while encouraging the return of lubrication. 

Is "flat and dry" your thing? Then come on down and enjoy the splendors of the Texas panhandle! From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona
Is "flat and dry" your thing? Then come on down and enjoy the splendors of the Texas panhandle!

Safely inside the car and NEVER wanting to go outside EVER again in this part of Texas, I started looking at the landscape as we drove. If 'flat' and 'light brown' is your thing, you'll love the Texas panhandle. Iowa is really flat, but the cornfields at least give your eyes a level change and, therein, your brain a tiny blip of neuro stimulation. But the plains in the panhandle of Texas do not raise or lower one single degree in any direction for as far as you can see. There is nothing except vast, brown flatness. It is so barren that there is actually nothing to hate about it because there is nothing to love about it because there is NOTHING there! For the entire drive across that part of Texas, I found myself utterly confused, unable to really identify my mental state.

It was similar to when the Grinch discovered that "[Christmas] came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags." I kept pulling John's head to the side and saying, "It comes without houses. It comes without towers. It comes without hills, trees, or flowers." There would be long periods of contemplative silence and in one of those moments, John quietly interjected, "I find the landscape soothing on my eyes and somewhat comforting." I wanted to shout, "What are you talking about?!!" How can two people feel SO differently about the same issue?! Could it be that not everyone in the country would love strolling around the North End in Boston? Doesn't everyone feel like the Rocky Mountains are the most gorgeous mountains on the planet? And, there are actually people charmed by swampland? 

I puzzled for three hours over this question til my puzzler was sore. Then, I thought of something I hadn't before....Maybe location is a little bit more. It is history and family and familiarity and stories and it shapes who we are and how we think. It is a beautiful thing, really, and makes me appreciate the vast topographical and philosophical differences among people who grow up in different regions. I don't have the faintest idea why someone would love the plains of northern Texas, but I also don't know how someone could find New York City charming day after day after day. The beautiful thing is, I don't have to understand it. It just is. 

And I'm so thankful that people love living wherever they love living and for whatever reasons. And with that, we whizzed through the day and that evening I, myself, carved the roast beef sandwich that we got at the grocery store and ate in our hotel room while we watched Holiday Cupcake Wars.

My answer? Accepting that my lack of understanding doesn't mean I'm right. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Nashville and West to Arizona
My answer? Accepting that my lack of understanding doesn't mean I'm right




Please click the photo below for a collection of my Travel with Awe and Wonder columns:

Travel with Awe and Wonder: A Compendium

Christy Anselmi, the Travel with Awe and Wonder Editor for Wandering Educators, taught kindergarten and first grade for 13 years in public schools in Atlanta and Massachusetts. She took a two year diversion to teach and learn in a Montessori school in Bozeman, Montana and a 10 year sabbatical to raise her own children. Christy has an abiding interest in early childhood education and how to provide developmentally appropriate experiences to engage young people in connection and communication. Raised by parents who got Christy involved in travel at a young age, she developed a curiosity about what is around each corner. Married to a Wyoming man who developed his own wanderlust after years in the Army, the two (along with two sons) have lived in five states (Georgia, Montana, Utah, Kansas, Massachusetts, and soon to be Arizona) and one country (Germany). Christy is a life-long noticer of intriguing scenarios, phrases, and ironies in everyday life. Finally putting pen to paper, she has a growing passion for insightful travel-experience writing.